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Q&A: New leadership for supporting businesses in our community accelerate commercialization and growth
Lesley Esford has joined SFU VentureLabs as its new executive director.
As a later-stage business accelerator that supports companies with science and technology innovations in commercializing and scaling up, VentureLabs’ programs and services are paramount for SFU to advance knowledge mobilization and develop industry connections.
VentureLabs is also an integral part of SFU Innovates, the university’s innovation strategy for engaging researchers, staff and students with our communities and partners to solve societal challenges through innovation and entrepreneurship.
VentureLabs’ programs and services are tailored to support strategic growth for the companies it serves, including both SFU spinouts and other companies out in the community. By connecting its member company CEOs with experienced mentors, industry partners, go-to-market advisors and a network of resources, these companies are positioned to tackle the unique challenges and complexities faced by technology innovators.
Esford recently sat down with us to discuss joining SFU and what makes her passionate about supporting businesses accelerate to the next level.
What attracted you to the role of Executive Director for VentureLabs?
By working for more than 20 years in various capacities in the entrepreneur community, I have seen the need for—and value of—organizations like VentureLabs that support new companies to thrive and grow.
For some time now, I have admired VentureLabs’ contributions to the business community and how it helps entrepreneurs. When the opportunity arose for the position of Executive Director, I saw the value that I could bring in helping this business accelerator and its client companies grow and make an impact. I knew I could not pass up the chance to bring that to life.
What makes you passionate about helping companies scale and accelerate into profitable, sustainable businesses?
Throughout my career, I have been in various roles that have been involved in helping companies grow and it has always been rewarding for me to see them succeed. As an investor, a head of programming as well as an entrepreneur myself, I understand the challenges around growing a company.
I love to be the champion and trusted advisor that helps a company navigate around the multitude of complex, and often unique, challenges entrepreneurs face that impacts their ability to get their company to the next level.
What past roles have helped you prepare for taking on this position?
I am joining VentureLabs—and SFU—at a unique time as we continue strengthening our approach to better support our startups with emerging from this pandemic.
My past roles positioned me at vantage points across the innovation landscape and gave me insights to craft well-defined strategies for the organizations I lead, including VentureLabs. I have been championing entrepreneurship and social innovation for more than two decades through positions in academia, industry and government that have helped support the growth of companies. This includes nine years as an Industrial Technology Advisor for the National Research Council, Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP).
In my role at NRC-IRAP, I had the pleasure of working with over 100 interesting, sometimes successful, British Columbia entrepreneurs that have grown their companies from the startup phase to attracting significant investment and commercializing a product.
I have held many roles supporting investment in new technologies and transitioning companies from an idea, to investment-ready, to growth stage: I am a board member at Innovate BC and served as President and CEO of LifeSciences BC. Together with my training as a Kauffman Fellow—a Silicon Valley-based international leadership program—I continue to help companies gain support from investors at various levels.